Control transfer delay discussed

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Control transfer delay discussed

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South Korea has requested yet another delay in its takeover of wartime operational control of its troops from the United States, citing escalated threats from North Korea.

Quoting senior officials from Seoul and Washington, Yonhap News Agency yesterday reported that South Korean Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin asked his U.S. counterpart, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, to reconsider the current timetable for the operational control transfer.

Under the current plan, the United States is scheduled to hand over control of the Korean troops in the event of a war to Korea in December 2015, which was already a delay from the original deadline of 2012.

The Ministry of the National Defense yesterday confirmed that the two countries are having discussions about the issue.

In a brief statement, the ministry said it has proposed to the United States to check on the two countries’ readiness for the 2015 transfer in reflection of the changing security environment, including the more serious nuclear threats by North Korea.

Kim Min-seok, spokesman of the ministry, however, denied the Yonhap report that Minister Kim made the request to Hagel at their meeting last month.

The spokesman said the two countries will discuss various issues at the annual security consultation between the two governments in October and an upcoming bilateral Military Committee Meeting.

Asked if the delay of the transfer will be on the agenda of either, the spokesman did not give a direct answer but hinted it was possible.

In an interview with Yonhap News, a senior U.S. government official said Seoul made the request.

“I know that has been proposed by the South Korean government, and we are looking at that, working with the South Korean government,” he was quoted as saying.

The official also said the United States would not “abruptly make decisions that would impair or endanger the security of South Korea,” the report said.

Some local media reported that Kim delivered Seoul’s hope for a delay to Hagel when they met June 1 on the sidelines of the Shangri-La Dialogue of the Asian Security Summit in Singapore. The Ministry of National Defense, however, denied the account.

It has been the official position of Seoul and Washington that they will stick with the current schedule. After their summit at the White House in May, President Park Geun-hye and U.S. President Barack Obama reaffirmed their commitment to the schedule.

A senior Blue House official confirmed yesterday afternoon that Korea’s Defense Ministry asked the United States to discuss operational control transfer issues.

The opposition Democratic Party yesterday condemned the Park administration for asking for a delay to the United States, saying that the issue needs a national consensus. The Democrats want Korea to regain wartime operational control, treating it as a sovereignty issue.

“We don’t want to believe that the presidents of Korea and the United States lied before the people of the two countries,” Representative Bae Jae-jeung, spokeswoman of the DP, said. “The two countries must come clean about what they have discussed at the summit and since then.”

Conservatives, however, are wary of the change. They argue that the transfer of wartime operational control will effectively dismantle the Korea-U.S. Combined Forces Command, which has long been considered a guarantee of automatic intervention of American forces in a conflict on the Korean Peninsula.

Concerns about the transfer grew after the North issued increasingly serious war threats. In March, the North threatened to invalidate the armistice agreement and issued orders to its rocket and artillery units to remain combat-ready. The North also conducted a third nuclear test and successfully launched a long-range missile earlier this year.

It remains to be seen if Seoul and Washington will postpone the change for a second time.

In February 2007, during the Roh Moo-hyun administration, Seoul and Washington agreed that the United States would relinquish wartime operational control of Korean troops to Korea by April 2012.

The schedule, however, was delayed at the request of President Lee Myung-bak after the North’s torpedo attack on South Korea’s Cheonan warship. He and Obama agreed to a postponement to December 2015 during a summit in June 2010.

South Korea first handed over its operational command of Korean forces to UN Commander Douglas MacArthur on July 14, 1950 shortly after the Korean War began.



BY SER MYO-JA [myoja@joongang.co.kr]

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